Celebrate Vegetarian Awareness Month with Vegetarian Characters in YA Lit
October is Vegetarian Awareness Month, beginning with World Vegetarian Day on October 1 and ending just before World Vegan Day on November 1. Teens are no strangers to vegetarianism. In 2007, three percent of teenagers considered themselves vegetarians, this is triple the amount that self-identified at such in 1997, according to a Harris Interactive poll as reported on the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.
In honor of this month-long celebration, here are five characters from YA that identify as vegetarian.
Hazel Grace Lancaster
Hazel is a sixteen-year-old, terminally-ill cancer patient. Hazel is the voice of the first-person narration in this book, giving the reader a very personal account of her logic and thoughts as she deals with her feelings regarding cancer and her death sentence. She is a vegetarian and when questioned about her dietary choice, specifically if it is because animals are too cute, she responds, “I want to minimize the number of deaths I am responsible for.” I suspect that no one would further question Hazel’s choice after that declaration.
Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins (2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults)
I would argue that Lola has one of the biggest, most colorful personalities in recent YA lit. She wears wigs and themed costumes on a daily basis, loves her two dads fiercely, and tries to maintain a positive outlook. Her vegetarianism seems like a perfectly natural part of the character that Perkins has created. Living in San Francisco, a city that is no stranger to vegetarian cuisine, having over 50 restaurants tagged as vegetarian and almost 400 “liked by vegetarians” near the city on Yelp, would allow her character to engage in such a diet without any real conflict.
The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot (2001 Top Ten Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, 2001 Best Book for Young Adults, 2014 Popular Paperback Nominee)
Much like Lola, Mia’s vegetarianism seems quite natural. She also lives in a community that would be more than accepting of a teen’s choice to go meatless. Greenwich Village’s history as a bohemian, arts center makes it a great place to explore aspects of self-identity such as a specialized diet. There are also plenty of restaurants in the small section of Manhattan with dedicated vegetarian menus. The fact that Mia is a vegetarian also furthers the idea that she really is just an average teenage girl when her father shows up to inform her that she is now the crown princess of Genovia. Given the statistics presented in the beginning of this post, many teenagers can relate to a character with a vegetarian diet.
Sixteen-year-old Simon, best friend of this series’ protagonist, Clary, became a vegetarian at the age of ten. When we first meet Simon his vegetarianism seems like just another characteristic of the persona Clare has created for him, like the fact that he is a bass player, manga reader, and Dungeons and Dragons player. However, his diet ends up being an interesting detail as the story continues and Simon becomes more involved in the world of Shadowhunters and other fantastical creatures.
The Inheritance Cycle series by Christopher Paolini (2004 Teens’ Top Ten, 2004 Selected Audiobook for Young Adults, 2006 Teens’ Top Ten, 2012 popular Paperback for Young Adults, 2013 Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults Top Ten)
Eragon may not be an average teenager since he is the first Dragon Rider born in 100 years, but I think that the portrayal of him as a vegetarian presents the dietary choice in a unique manner. Eragon does not start out as a vegetarian in this series. His training includes studying magic and expanding consciousness which lead him to change his views of life. This change leads to his conversion to vegetarianism, a practice observed also by the elves in the series. In this case, vegetarianism is presented as a form of enlightenment. Despite this view, the author reports that he is not a vegetarian.
These are just a handful of many vegetarians to appear in YA. Who are your favorite?
Also, if you are interested in some YA vegetarian/vegan cookbooks, check out last year’s post for Vegetarian Awareness Month!
-Jessica Lind, currently reading The Cuckoo’s Calling by J.K Rowling and The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black